Early fall I was looking to get an espresso machine. At the end of September 2020, I wound up buying the Breville Barista Pro. This post is meant to review my thought process in how I made that decision.
At the time, I was pretty sure the Breville Barista Express was going to be the right choice for me, after doing a lot of reading and watching YouTube videos. Bed Bath and Beyond had a 20% off coupon at the time that was still working on the Breville Espresso machines, which they seem to have since ended for those products. I was going to get the Barista Express, aware of the main criticism being the grinder is not considered that great for espresso. One of the main concerns is that the “steps” are fairly large between grinder settings, making it difficult to be precise in dialing in the grind coarseness.
I noticed the Barista Pro was on sale at Bed Bath and Beyond and I looked into it. I hadn’t heard of it prior to then. There are a few main differences from the Barista Express.
First, to address one of the biggest criticisms of the Barista Express, the Pro has more steps for the grinder. Instead of the 18 steps on the Express, the pro has 30 steps. When making espresso, the coarseness of the grind is essential. Not only do you need to be able to grind very fine to get the proper pressure, but you need to be able to adjust that fineness in very small amounts. Many people said that the steps were just too large on the Barista Express. Some people solved that issue by using a large paperclip on the grind setting to hold the setting in between notches. The Barista Pro addresses that issue by having almost twice as many grind steps.
Many people do still criticize the quality of the grinds from the Breville Grinder (which is essentially the same as the Breville Smart Grinder Pro). Many other reviews also say that it is a very capable grinder for making espresso, at about the lowest entry price for an electric grinder. I won’t get into that issue more in this post, but will probably address it more in a different post later.
Second, the biggest negative change compared to the Barista Express is that the Pro does NOT have a pressure gauge. There is a lot of debate as to the actual benefit of having the pressure gauge on these machines. As I have only briefly used the Barista Express before I knew what I was doing (used one at a vacation home during the summer of 2020), I can’t fully comment on the usefulness of the pressure gauge. The arguments I found compelling were that the information the pressure gauge will provide can also be obtained indirectly. Basically, the pressure gauge can show you that the grind is too coarse by being too low during an extraction. You would get the same information based on the time of the shot – a fast shot occurs when the grind is too coarse. A slow shot occurs when the grind is too fine.
The exception is that you can get a fast shot when you have “channeling” (water going through small channels formed from uneven puck preparation), in spite of having a grind that is fine enough. This will lead to bad results as some of the coffee grinds get over-extracted (bitter tasting) while other grinds get under-extracted (sour tasting). It overall gives a result with mixes of bad tastes.
Most comments online seemed to suggest the pressure gauge doesn’t add much. That may well be true, but I can’t say for certain. I’ve also seen some recent tinkerers do interesting things with changing the OPV (over pressure valve) to lower the maximum pressure. They use the pressure gauge as a way to estimate what the max pressure is. I don’t know that I’d go about trying to make those changes, but if you think you are a tinkerer, having the pressure gauge may be a bonus.
The Pro does have a shot timer built in. I don’t think the Express does. I find timing the shot is essential get getting an idea of whether my grind settings are correct. Taste is the ultimate deciding factor, but as I have a fairly undeveloped palate when it comes to espresso, knowing the timing of the shot is critical for me. Of course, it is easy to use another timer – either a cell phone or a dedicated timer, so having it built in isn’t really a necessity. I do rely on the shot timer though – both to know when to manually end pre-infusion, and to gauge the appropriateness of my current grind settings.
One difference that is likely an advantage for the Pro is the thermojet heating system as opposed to the thermocoil heating system in the Express. The thermocoil takes longer to heat up and also radiates heat to the top of the machine (which makes for a nice cup warmer). The Pro has a thermojet which is faster and does not radiate excess heat. The thermojet heats things up in a few seconds. The thermocoil is more like 30 seconds. Both are fast compared to boiler machines. Some people suggest heating the Express by waiting 15-20 minutes before pulling the first shot. I don’t think things heat up the same way with the Pro, so leaving it on may not add any extra heat to the machine and parts.
Related to having the faster thermojet, the milk steamer also produces steam faster on the pro. You can’t steam at the same time as you are making the espresso, but switching to produce steam only takes a few seconds on the Pro.
The Pro has an LCD screen instead of just the lighted buttons on the Express.
With the available Bed Bath and Beyond coupon at the time, the difference in price was $80 more for the Pro. I thought the extra value of having a more usable grinder just due to smaller steps was worth the extra price. I was a little worried about not having the pressure gauge, but most experts felt it wasn’t that useful. Unless I was trying to do . I figured the faster speed was a bonus but not a major deciding factor.
I’ve now been using the Breville Barista Pro for about 3.5 months. I use it almost every day to make two milk based drinks and sometimes more on the weekends. Other than the brief time I used the Express before I knew anything about espresso, I really have nothing to compare it to. Overall, I think getting the Pro is worth the extra cost over the Express, unless you plan to tinker with the OPV. If you were going to do that, though, you likely know enough to get one of the Breville units without a built in grinder.
If you have any questions about the Breville Barista Pro, feel free to add a comment and I’ll do my best to answer.